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Saturday, June 14, 2014

German-American Spotlight: Jürgen Klinsmann

The 2014 World Cup started 2 days ago, so it seemed like a completely appropriate time to write about a German-American soccer star.  Not only that, but he is Team USA's coach this year.  It's hard to consider his career and not admire Jürgen Klinsmann as a player and a coach.  Most soccer fans are aware of his days as a player in Germany, but in recent years, he has a German-American connection that's been criticized at times.

Klinsmann as the USA men's team coach (source:

Like most German kids (it's a stereotype for a reason), Klinsmann played soccer growing up.  He played for amateur football club, TB Gingen when he was 8, then played for SC Geislingen from ages 10-16.  He signed on with the Stuttgarter Kickers when he was 16 and when he was 18 began his professional career.  More German stereotypes: his family owned a bakery and made him finish his apprenticeship as a baker in their family business before he went pro.  Hard to blame them, with such uncertainty when it comes to careers in sports.  The best bit of trivia from that is that he is a journeyman baker (if he ever wants to fall back on that) and his family's bakery still stands in Botnang, Stuttgart, Germany.  Had I known that when I studied there in 2009, I definitely would have made the trip!

Klinsmann Family Bakery (source: Wikipedia)
In his professional career, Klinsmann played for several teams:  Stuttgarter Kickers (1981-1984), VfB Stuttgart (1984-1989), Internazionale (1989-1992), AS Monaco (1992-1994), Tottenham Hotspur (1994-1995), Bayern Munich (1995-1997), Sampdoria (1997-1998), Tottenham Hotspur (again from 1997-1998), and the Orange County Blue Star (2003 after retiring and moving to the USA under pseudonym Jürgen Göppingen).  His time on all these teams is interesting, but his Wikipedia page gives a better summary of that than I ever could.

During his professional career, Klinsmann also played for the West German team and the Unified German team.  He scored in all 6 major international tournaments he played in from 1988 through 1998 (Euro and World Cups) and was part of the West German team that won the 1990 FIFA World Cup and the unified German team that won the 1996 UEFA European Championship.  His professional career as a soccer player is nothing short of impressive.

Klinsmann with the 1990 FIFA World Cup trophy (source:
After Klinsmann moved to California (in 1998, and became an American citizen), he made a long commute (seriously) to coach the German national team from 2004-2006.  He had many critics because of initial poor performance among other reasons.  But, the team did well in the 2006 World Cup and only lost in the July 4 semi-final against Italy (still among my least favorite teams for that fame).  The team finished in third place, and Klinsman had many fewer critics.  Though many wanted him to continue coaching, he declined and took over as the coach of Bayern Munich from 2008-2009.  This team also did well, but it wasn't long because Klinsmann became the head coach of the US Men's Soccer Team in 2011, a position he is contracted to hold until 2018.  He's faced criticism again in this position.

One major criticism this year is Klinsmann's decision to not include Landon Donovan on the team roster for this World Cup.  Klinsman said that Donovan was not performing as well as the players who were chosen and it is more important to consider current level instead of past accomplishments.  The criticism rode to pretty harsh attacks with many saying Klinsmann should leave American soccer to Americans (people don't seem to realize he is an American) and go back to Germany.  The whole situation was messy, but everyone seems to have come out okay from it.  This blogger did a good job of explaining the situation.

Another round of criticism related to nationality came soon after, but this time the target was the nationality of the players chosen for the US team.  It may have stemmed from Donovan being cut, but fans became angry that seven of the players are dual-nationals; all of them are American citizens because they have an American parent or were born in the USA, but they grew up outside of the USA.  These men are Norwegian-American Mix Diskerud, Icelandic-American Aron Johannsson, and five German-Americans: Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, John Brooks, and Julian Green.  For many of them, English is their second language, just like Klinsmann (though he is fluent in German, English, Italian, and French, and I'm unsure which is technically his second language).  It's interesting that there are also four first-generation Americans on the team: Omar Gonzalez (parents from Mexico), Alejandro Bedoya (parents from Colombia), Jozy Altidore (parents from Haiti), and Tim Howard (parents from Hungary).  It's a very diverse group, and some are not happy that players like Donovan were passed over for others who are not "fully" American.  Or, these critics don't understand that all of them are US citizens and not that different from a lot of us Heinz 57s with heritage rooted worldwide.

One other reason Klinsmann has been criticized in the past few months is because of his statement that "we [the United States] cannot win this World Cup."  This comes from an understanding of the sport from the perspective of a player who has won the trophy and a coach who has come close, but Americans don't like being told that we can't do something.  We've had underdog stories pushed on us since before all those 80's movies and we want to be the underdogs who prove everyone wrong.  We want to be The Big Green.  But, the team's record in the past has not been wonderful and they will be lucky to get out of Group G, also known as "The Group of Death," and advance to the final 16.  Americans definitely believe in miracle stories though and Klinsmann being realistic doesn't jive well with that.  He has faith in his team, but feels they are "a work in progress" and "doing fine."  That's hard to argue with, but we'll see what happens!

Despite the critics, Klinsmann had had an continues to have an amazing career.  He also does amazing charity work.  Here's to seeing even more great things from him!

Best coaches of 2014 (source:

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